Medical myths cleared up for National Women's Health Week

Women’s medicine experts clear up medical myths, misconceptions in advance of National Women’s Health Week May 11-17

– National Women’s Health Week is fast approaching and what better time to offer a refresher or new tip to help women live healthier lives. Experts from The Women’s Medicine Collaborative shed light on some common medical myths and misconceptions in an effort to help women be well.

“Medical myths abound, whether it’s through the pages upon pages of information accessible through the internet or through well-meaning friends and family,” says Iris Tong, MD, FACP the director of Women’s Primary Care at the Women’s Medicine Collaborative “However, these myths often lead to treatments that are ineffective at best and at times dangerous.”

Common medical myths

•    Myth 1 – Antibiotics treat infections like sinus infections, pink eye and bronchitis
This is not always true, explains Tong. In more than 90 percent of cases, it is a virus that causes these infections and viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can cause nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, yeast infections, allergic reactions, interactions with other medications, C.difficile infection, tendon rupture and sudden cardiac death. “People should also remember that taking unnecessary antibiotics can lead to drug resistance, making antibiotics ineffective when they are truly needed,” she said.

•    Myth 2 – An MRI is the best test for back pain
The reality, according to Tong, is that most people who develop back pain recover in about four to six weeks, meaning tests are usually not needed for those first four to six weeks of symptoms. However, you should seek an evaluation if your back pain is accompanied by fever, is unrelenting at night or hurts while at rest, if it is combined with numbness or weakness in your legs, or if you have a loss of bowel or bladder control.

Tong says she usually recommends the following for patients suffering from back pain: ice or heat as preferred, NSAIDS such as aspirin or ibuprofen or Tylenol, muscle relaxants or pain medication for the first few days, maintain routine activity if possible, but stop exercise or activity that worsens symptoms, and physical therapy.

•    Myth 3 – The flu shot gave me the flu
The flu shot cannot cause the flu, says Tong. “Flu shots are either made with flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated,’ meaning they are not infectious or they are made with a live virus.” But that doesn’t mean there aren’t side effects. Some of the most common are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling at the site of the shot. Sometimes, those who receive the flu shot also experience a low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches.

Misconceptions about women’s care

•    Myth 1 – Men die of heart disease, women die of breast cancer
The leading cause of death for women is heart disease with heart disease causing one in three deaths in women each year. “The key,” says Tong, “is awareness.”

Tong notes that women can take important steps to help reduce their risk of heart disease. These include: knowing your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers; quitting smoking (more than 30 percent of first heart attacks are caused by smoking); and taking baby aspirin, which can prevent a stroke in women of all ages.  

•    Myth 2 – I need to lose 50 pounds to be at a healthier weight
What women need to focus on is what their body mass index (BMI) is, which helps establish the parameters as to whether someone is a normal weight, overweight, obese or morbidly obese. “Women should not be focused on the number of pounds they think they need to lose,” says Tong. “Instead, they should focus on their BMI as it takes into account their weight, but also, their height.” Losing five to 10 percent of your body weight significantly decreases health risks.

•    Myth 3 – Midwives only care for pregnant women
Midwives care for women throughout their lifespan, from the teenage years through menopause, says Maureen Morrow, CNM, MSN, MPH, a certified nurse midwife with Ob-Gyn Associates, a Women’s Medicine Collaborative partner. Midwives are a great choice for everything from annual gynecologic exams to contraceptive counseling, family planning and insertion of intrauterine devices.

Midwives deliver approximately 12 percent of all babies born vaginally in the US.  In addition, they care for women of all ages who present for a wide variety of reasons outside of the maternity cycle. In fact, while well known for attending births, 53.3 percent of certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) and certified midwives (CMs) identify reproductive care and 33.1 percent identify primary care as main responsibilities in their full-time positions – and certified nurse-midwives are licensed, independent health care providers with prescriptive authority in all 50 states.

•    Myth 4 – Midwives only assist with natural, in-home childbirth
“Midwives work closely with pregnant women throughout the pregnancy to give them personalized one-on-one care,” says Morrow, “whether that’s directing them to sign up for childbirth classes or encouraging them to prepare for breastfeeding.”

Midwives also work with women who choose epidural anesthesia by supporting them in early labor and assisting them with the timing of the epidural.

Morrow advises that women schedule a pre-conception visit before having a baby to assess the woman’s “whole health” picture and discuss healthy habits for a healthy pregnancy, such as achieving a healthy weight and having optimal nutrition before conceiving.

“We are all about planning,” Morrow says. “We are trying to educate women so they can get the best possible care and be the best they can be.”